- A new study finds that getting your blood pressure taken while you’re lying down may give a more accurate reading that could show signs of heart disease risks.
- Even though the new study found something different, researchers agree that sitting up is still the best way to take blood pressure.
- Experts say that people should make it a priority to know their blood pressure numbers and act on them, because high blood pressure can make someone more likely to have dangerous heart events.
New study shows that getting your blood pressure checked while you’re lying down may give more exact results.
Every time you go to the doctor, your blood pressure is taken for a reason. Blood pressure is often a good indicator of serious health problems, like the chance of stroke, heart disease, and even dying too soon.
So, it’s important to get the most exact reading of your blood pressure so you can take care of your health.
The American Heart Association (AHA) gave a talk earlier this month about how a person’s physical position when their blood pressure is taken can affect their blood pressure number, which in turn can affect how well they can predict certain health risks.
All of it comes down to where an adult is when they get a high blood pressure number.
Adults who had high blood pressure both when they were sitting up and when they were lying flat on their backs were more likely to have a stroke, heart failure, die too soon, or have heart disease than those who didn’t have high blood pressure in either pose.
Also, adults whose blood pressure was high when they were lying on their backs but not when they were sitting up straight had the same chance of these heart health problems as adults whose blood pressure was high when they were both sitting up and lying down.
Duc M. Giao, the lead study author and a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, told Health that he “did not expect supine blood pressure to be such a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease events or for supine blood pressure to vary so much.”
So, do doctors make a mistake when they take a patient’s blood pressure while he or she is sitting up instead of lying down?
“Doctors don’t do anything wrong when they take a patient’s blood pressure while they’re sitting up straight, and that’s how it’s done now,” Giao said.
Here’s why your position affects your blood pressure reading and whether or not you should ask to have your blood pressure taken in a different way than usual.
Figuring out how different body positions affect blood pressure readings
The data for the new study came from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) project, which included 11,369 people. During the study’s sign-up time, from 1987 to 1989, information about the subjects’ blood pressure while they were sitting and when they were lying down was collected.
The average age of the subjects was 54, and 56% of them said they were women and 25% said they were Black. They were watched for 25 to 28 years, and the last data was collected in 2011 and 2012.
16% of the people who didn’t have high blood pressure when they were sitting did when they were lying down. 74% of the people whose blood pressure was high when they were sitting up straight also had high blood pressure when they were lying flat on their backs.
People with high blood pressure in both roles had a 1.6 times higher risk of coronary heart disease, a 1.83 times higher risk of heart failure, a 1.86 times higher risk of a stroke, a 1.43 times higher risk of dying too soon, and a 2.18 times higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease.
Also, people whose blood pressure was high when they were lying down but not when they were sitting up had the same increased risk of heart health problems as people whose blood pressure was high when they were both sitting and lying down.
Giao says that in different body situations, a person’s autonomic nerve system controls blood pressure “to provide stability.”
“However, when you’re sitting and standing up, gravity causes blood to pool in your legs and feet,” he said. “If the body can’t keep up with these changes, the blood pressure will change when you lie down, sit down, or stand up.”
Gregory Katz, MD, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Heart and associate professor at the Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, said that it’s important to put studies like this one in perspective.
That is, you shouldn’t worry if your blood pressure is taken while you’re sitting up straight at your next yearly physical.
Katz said that anything that makes your energy go up also makes your blood pressure go up. So someone’s blood pressure will go up if they are upset or in pain.
“So, if you look at this study, there are only a few people whose blood pressure is different when they are sitting than when they are lying down,” he said.
Katz says this could be because there are some people whose blood pressure will always be high, putting them at “elevated cardiovascular risk.”
Choosing to lie down for a blood pressure check
Giao says that people with high blood pressure when sitting should also check their blood pressure when they are lying down.
“This could help identify supine hypertension, which is a strong predictor of both fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events,” he said.
Katz said again how important it is to put the results of special studies like this one in a bigger picture.
“I think the message here for patients is that high blood pressure is bad, and figuring out that you have high blood pressure is a really important part of cardiovascular intervention,” he said. “But it’s hard for me to say who or what kind of patient needs to have his or her blood pressure taken while lying down.”
Giao said that in the future, he and his colleagues will compare the blood pressure of people who are lying down in a clinic with the blood pressure of people who are lying down overnight.
But for now, he said that his study shows that high blood pressure can be measured while a person is lying down and that this could be a good way to find out if a person has a higher risk of heart disease in a clinic setting.
He said that people who know or think they are at risk for heart disease could ask their doctor to check their numbers while they are lying down.
Katz agrees that different situations could lead to different blood pressure readings, but his biggest worry is making the process too hard for patients.
“I think that the more complicated you make it, the more likely it is that you will confuse people and give patients another thing to do or worry about,” he said.
At the end of the day, this all shows how important it is to take care of your heart health.
Katz said, “It’s important to know your numbers, and high blood pressure is one of the most important numbers to know if you want to know how likely you are to get heart disease.” “You can take charge of your health by being proactive and getting your blood pressure checked.”